I’ve thought of a new acronym. It stands for Too Much Shopping.
On Saturday I found myself in Walmart, having a whispered, but heated, argument with Ian about hand-held vacuum cleaners, in my view a necessity for maintaining adequate cleanliness and hygiene on the boat. It was the first of our shopping forays to get the boat sorted and equipped before we set off on the Great Loop for real, and the objective was non-food household items.
Arguments when we go shopping are not that uncommon, which is why we don’t shop together very often, but as I can’t drive in the US I had to be accompanied. What was bizarre about this particular argument was that I wanted the sturdy, 18v, dark grey Black & Decker job with the ergonomic handle and the two auxiliary crevice tools, while Ian considered that the flimsy, 12v pink one that cost only a few dollars less would be perfectly adequate. I’ve sometimes had to quote Ruskin on the subject of value for money, but fortunately it wasn’t necessary on this occasion. Besides, compared with the plethora of must-have electronic gadgets we have acquired at some expense over the last fortnight, from the laptop, the dongle, and the GPS gadget to the personal wifi hotspot, the vacuum cleaner seemed to me a minor expense.

Yesterday’s shopping task was filling up the boat with diesel. This could have been left until we were leaving St Pete, but Ian thought he needed practice at missing other boats in the marina, and I needed practice at lassoing the poles on the dock, and throwing ropes to people.
Ian had radioed the marina office to say we were coming to refuel, and we were met by a man from the marina, who greeted us with “Hey Ainsworths. Where do y’all get those cute Alabama accents?’ Difficult one, really.
He addressed Ian as Captain, at the end of every sentence. This was abbreviated to ‘Capt’ but the p was silent, so that the conversation went along the lines of ‘You got a line there, Ca’t?’ ‘Hold it right there, Ca’t’.
91 gallons of diesel later, we were done, but Ca’t had unfortunately left his credit card in TGI Fridays the day before, so the first mate had to pay.
This involved getting off the boat and going up to the marina office. Normally I am not very brave about jumping off and on the boat, but perhaps because of Marina Man’s presence, I took a determined leap and landed with a good two feet to spare and my dignity intact.
“You’re just like my wife,’ Marina Man said, admiringly. “Great woman. Lousy taste in men.’
Around St Pete 001

Downtown St Pete is quite posh. Straub Park overlooks the marina, and the palms and other trees provide a cool green space between the bayfront and the sea. There are some elegant apartment blocks between the treelined avenues and lots of nice places to sit out and admire the view with lunch or just a coffee. It’s busy with smartly-dressed people of all ages.
On Saturday night it was heaving. We were tired after the shopping marathon, and Ian fancied going to eat at The Moon under Water, which described itself as an English pub.
Around St Pete 012

Usually I’m suspicious of such places when they are not actually in England, but the Moon does go back to Colonial times, and the name refers to the practices of the Press Gangs. The Army recruiters would slip a silver shilling into drinks. If anyone drank from a vessel (pewter in those days) with a silver shilling at the bottom, they would be deemed to have taken the Queen’s Shilling and forced to join up. The pewter vessels started being made with glass bottoms, so you could pick it up before drinking, and see if there was a shilling (the moon) at the bottom of the drink (under the water).

Anyway, on Saturday night there was a 25-minute wait for a table. We were hungry, but the next place was too expensive. Everywhere else on the bayfront was busy. Getting dispirited, we followed a sign to a Thai restaurant into a rather dingy shopping mall, when suddenly there was loud music coming from a bar, and realising it was a live performance, we went in for a drink and to hear some amazing Bluegrass/ country music performed by a motley crew with guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin. Just one of those serendipitous happenings that make travelling so enjoyable. We went back to the pub, and the wait had increased to 45 minutes. But it didn’t matter. We found a nice Caribbean restaurant a couple of blocks away,and had a great meal there.
We went back to the pub on Sunday night. Inside, it looked like one of those Victorian pubs in London or Manchester, high ceilings, lots of pewter tankards hanging up and deep-buttoned leather upholstered seating. And the food was good there too.
Around St Pete 005
Around St Pete 002
The shopping is finished. Of course there were the lifejackets and other boating necessities to be got from West Marine, and we did the final food shop today at Publix, which is to Walmart as Waitrose is to Aldi. Tonight it will be dinner on Carina for the first time.

We’re ready to roll, except that tomorrow it’s going to be rainy, windy and the sea will be choppy. So departure for Longboat Key is now scheduled for Thursday.

Introducing mvCarina……


Ian wondered aloud the other day when our project would stop being stressful, and start being enjoyable. Not anytime soon, apparently.
In any case, wasn’t the point of the exercise, at least partly, to generate stress? What is excitement if it isn’t stress?

There was stress/excitement in abundance today, when we took control of Carina, as opposed to simply owning her. She was moored at the dock outside the vendors, Tom and Tracy’s, house in Treasure Island, and we faced the daunting prospect of casting off and getting under way with them watching the spectacle. In the event, Ian spent so long fiddling with the navigational gadgetry and putting off the evil moment, that they gave up and went out for lunch, but we didn’t find that out till later. We thought they were simply lurking behind the blinds.

We had considered postponing, because the weather forecast wasn’t that favourable – winds of 20knots, but moderating in the afternoon. If it had been any worse, we wouldn’t have gone. Being narrowboaters of some years’ experience, we’re used to boats being carried by the wind, but this was rather different. The manoeuvre consisted of reversing the boat, then going forwards down the channel. But surrounding the dock were several other boats belonging to Tom and Tracy’s neighbours, large poles sticking out of the water and some shallow water.
Although Carina obligingly drifted out away from the two poles she’d been moored to, as Ian reversed, the wind blew us at speed towards the other boats and poles. A hair-raising few minutes passed until we finally got free, the outboard dinghy on the back missing one of the poles by an inch.

Under way in Tampa Bay

Under way in Tampa Bay

Another source of stress was the depth of the water – in many parts of Tampa Bay it’s very shallow, and our depth gauge, remarkably similar to a dental apex locator, beeped with alarming frequency. But we managed to avoid the horrors of running aground, only to encounter stronger winds and more swell, reminding me of an epic journey in 1974 in our Enterprise dinghy in Hongkong, when Ian thought it was a good idea to sail in heavy seas round the south side of Hongkong Island from Stanley Sailing Club to Little Saiwan, a traumatic experience which is embedded in my memory.

Ian on the bridge

Ian on the bridge

However, we arrived safely at the marina at St Pete, with boat and dignity intact, and were met by Norm from the brokers we had bought the boat from, who had very kindly not only given us a lift to Tom and Tracy’s in the morning, but came down to the marina later to help us dock.

arriving at St Pete marina

arriving at St Pete marina

Norm and Ian docking the boat

Norm and Ian docking the boat

On the canals in England, we often encountered what are known as ‘gongoozlers’, onlookers who gaze on as the boaters tackle the locks. I haven’t yet learned the equivalent American term, but there were some waiting as we docked. Admiringly, they enquired how old the boat was, and how many years we had had her. On being told that we bought her last week, and this was our maiden voyage, they were rapturous not only of Carina’s beauty but also Ian’s boat handling skills. I do have to admit he’d made quite a neat job of it.
Here’s a quick guided tour.

The galley

The galley

Aft cabin

Aft cabin

Carina safely moored at St Pete

Carina safely moored at St Pete

It’s nice to see the family……



……….and it’s nice to see them go, except of course when you are the departing guests.

The familiar feelings of sadness at leaving them all  weren’t helped by an evening arrival at  Orlando,  followed by an hour’s hassle over the car hire and a two hour drive to the West Coast,  but we did have a reasonable  meal in Chili’s and the waitress reminded me of Denise out of  Hebburn, the eponymous television programme.

Today we went to Treasure Island to receive instruction in how to avoid disaster afloat, from Tom and Tracy, the vendors. I managed to remember  the location of the special implement to open the water and diesel filler caps, and how to use it, but little else.

But Tom and Ian spent some considerable time below deck in the pristine engine  room,  discussing filters, pumps of various kinds, and frequency of oil changes. I can already see that Ian’s enjoyment of the trip will not be confined to  the cruising,  visiting  places of interest, and carousing with other boat owners, but will include many happy hours  fettling the engine and generally Fixing Things.

I still can’t quite believe that the boat is ours,  still less that tomorrow, weather permitting, we will be taking it all by ourselves  15 miles across the bay to St Petersburg. We have the use of a mooring there for a few days while we stock up and organise the boat.  She is already well equipped, but a priority will be another blanket and a fan heater, since  ‘freezing temperatures could be reached’ , according to the weather forecast,  on Tuesday night.

You got it, Grandad


Said Sophie, congratulating Ian on successfully closing the garage door with the remote control.
We’ve taken a few days away from boat-buying to spend with the family, and were heading off to Hidden Pond Country Park, Springfield.
Virginia is lovely, and especially so in the winter, when there seem to be more sunny days than there are in England.


The air is crisp and dry, and the light doesn’t fade so quickly in the afternoons. The brightness seems to illuminate the winter colours of russet, pale gold, grey and green.


We had forgotten that the simple business of finding a stick, throwing it, and making it splash into an expanse of water, can afford seemingly unlimited fascination to small children.

Then they discovered that if they lay down on their tummies and peered over edge of the little jetty, they could see their reflections in the water below. This activity was considered too nerve-wracking for the grandparents though, and quickly curtailed.
On the way home, Sophie, who has perfect pitch and is four tomorrow, started humming The Red Flag.
It’s interesting, what they pick up at pre-school.
In the afternoon I learned some more American, when we took Soph out to the Mall to get her birthday present.
As we drove past Barnes & Noble, the amazing chain of book shops sadly under threat from Amazon, I asked Soph if she liked going to the bookshop.
‘No, it’s bookstore,’ she corrected me, in a slightly impatient tone.
Do keep up, Grandma.

Deviating from the script

The St Petersburg Looper

A minor, but painful, condition failed to respond to two days’ self-medication and Hoping For the Best, so this evening, not without some trepidation, we went off to Sarasota Memorial Hospital Urgent Care.
There was a moment of panic when the nurse announced that she was going to check my vitals, but this turned out to mean nothing more alarming than taking my blood pressure and measuring my oxygen saturation.
The problem was swiftly, professionally and kindly dealt with, but what amused me was that although the staff did not hesitate to tell us what everything would cost, they did so in an apologetic manner, and I couldn’t help wondering if they were like that with everyone, or if they thought that being British, we would begrudge the cost because it was free at home.
I didn’t begrudge it. It was worth every cent, and good value for money.

America may have given us Macdonalds and Burger King, but there are a lot of good, inexpensive eating places here too. This was today’s lunch, a Garden Wrap from Marketplace Express. image

We’ve had a few good days taking in the Farmers’ Market and a Bikers’ Festival at Sarasota, watching the wildlife at Myakka River State Park and the excellent Museum of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, finishing with a ride (50c for me, 25c for Ian) on the St Petersburg Looper, an entertaining tour of the town.

But tomorrow it’s back to business. We have to be at Treasure Island (yes, really) at 8.30am for the survey and sea trial of the boat we want to buy.

A friendly welcome, a bridge and two boats

I was reminded yesterday that it was 40 years to the day since we travelled to Hongkong to live and work for 11 years. Forty years on, I’m still following Ian to strange places round the globe.
We got the usual friendly welcome at Orlando Airport.
‘You guys bringing any food into the United States?’
Well no, not after the time I brought some lovely, air-dried, vacuum-packed Waberthwaite bacon as a present for Ted and had it confiscated.
Anyway, Ian thought it wise to admit that he was in possession of a number of Rington’s tea bags.
‘Ah, tea.’ The US Customs official’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. ‘We had some great tea, once. Then someone tipped it into the ocean. You guys have a great trip.’
Our first impressions of Florida, it has to be said, were not that favourable. It probably isn’t best viewed from the motorway, on a grey day at a temperature of 7C. Wednesday we drove 150 miles to look at two boats. The first one was being sold because the owner’s partner had decided after a trial run that cruising wasn’t her thing. It wouldn’t be mine either, in a boat where the storage space consisted of one six-inch wide wardrobe and a 9inch wide cupboard.
The next viewing was rather different. Mrs Current Owner had stipulated that if she was going to live in it for 2 or 3 months at a time, certain requirements had to be met, and not only did these coincide with mine, but Mr Current Owner had acceded to all demands, resulting in a very nice boat indeed.
So the next day we made an offer to buy Carina, subject to survey and sea trial, which has been accepted! Woo hoo!

Today the sun came out and we drove over to St Petersburg to pay a deposit and sign the contract. The ‘comfort station’ on the front street caught my eye, and a gentleman who saw me take the photo insisted on telling me the story.
In 1913, a builder was commissioned to build a new church, to be known as Great St Mary’s. When the project was complete, the Catholic Church (allegedly) refused to pay on the grounds that it didn’t have any money. A couple of years later, the city council advertised for someone to build some new public conveniences. The builder won the contract, and built the comfort station as a miniature replica of the referred to by the locals as Little St Mary’s.

Little St Mary's, St Petersburg, Fl

Little St Mary’s, St Petersburg, Fl
Finally, on the way to our current hotel at Sarasota we passed over the Sunshine Skyway bridge. As Ian says, it’s not every day you see a cable-stayed bridge, is it?


Thoughts from the Departure Lounge

As we’re now officially designated ‘elderly’ by government departments, statisticians and journalists, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I have developed an almost pathological aversion to Wasting Food. This means that going away anywhere results in a stressful bout of Trying to Avoid Throwing Anything Away.
Lunch on Monday was something if a triumph – a confection, no less, of red onions, sweet potato, and red pepper, topped with five different varieties of slightly stale cheese and a thick layer of brown breadcrumbs. And in a flash of inspiration, the half-loaf of stale white bread was consigned to the freezer, destined for a bread and butter pudding when we come back.

It felt as though the 3-coach, stop -at-every-station train we boarded at Newcastle for the 3-hour journey to Manchester Airport didn’t quite match the aspirations of our project. For some reason, we had to wait in the rain on the platform for 15 minutes before the train operatives, as I believe they are now known, deigned to open the doors to let us board.
Ian asked about Wifi. Having already delivered the disappointing news that a cup of tea wouldn’t be available until we had passed York, the train man placed a friendly hand on Ian’s shoulder and said ‘Wifi? This is t’Transpeninne Express, lad.’
So now we’re at Manchester Airport, or Ringway as we elderly Mancunians know it.
And it’s the same temperature in Florida as it is in Newcastle.

It’s actually happening…….


It’s happening- all the hours spent over the computer doing on-line navigation courses, researching the route, deciding what sort of boat would be suitable,  engaging in dialogue with other boaters on the Great Loop forum, and even the online flight booking, all had a dream-like quality that could be safely ignored in the light of the day, unlike the dark nights spent in a state of free-floating anxiety.

But two weeks ago the first physical sign appeared, a Union Jack which  it seems will flutter from somewhere on our boat,  in competition with the Star-Spangled Banner which will compulsorily adorn the stern. Not sure this is entirely wise, but we shall see. Then Christmas brought a brightly coloured rubber fish key-ring (to stop the keys sinking to the bottom of the waterway in the inevitable event of their being dropped over the side of the boat) and some very appropriate socks from my friend Alison.

So here we are, packed up and ready to go, and I’m feeling reluctantly excited, trying to put out of my mind the way my friends have been hugging me rather more than usual lately, as if they might not see me again. At least I’ve been promised some ballroom dancing in Orlando on Thursday night.